As I wrote last week, an 18-game NFL regular season schedule seems fairly inevitable and something that could become a reality within the next half-decade or so.
I realize this isn’t necessarily the most popular topic, but the conceptions of Heinz Field, PNC Park and PPG Paints Arena were extremely unpopular in some circles many years ago. However, today, all three are fine venues to catch Pittsburgh’s three major sports teams, and most people don’t seem to remember how angry they used to be.
In other words, human beings have a way of adapting and moving forward—even sports fans. Therefore, I’m sure we’ll all quickly grow used to the realities of an 18-game regular season.
But how would the league go about this change and do so without upsetting the apple cart too, too much?
If you’re going to add two more regular season games, you’re likely going to have to eliminate two preseason games. But if you decide to go ahead and do that, when does the real season start?
If you hypothetically go by the 2019 calendar, the real games would start the night of Thursday, August 22, when the Bears kick off the regular season against the Packers. The third week in August is traditionally when the third set of preseason games are played; since there will only be two of those moving forward, the second week of exhibition action would take place in the middle of the month—just like it does now; this year, that would occur between Thursday, August 15 and Saturday, August 17 (this is just a guess, but teams would likely continue to play their final preseason games on Thursday night so as to have as much time as possible to make the final cuts and get ready for Week 1).
Now, in my opinion, if the NFL is going to have its employees play two more regular season games, it’s only fair that it also gives them extra rest in the form of a second bye week. But wouldn’t that push the Super Bowl back to almost the end of February?
Under my scenario, it would not.
Under my scenario, Week 2 of every regular season would be a bye week for all NFL teams. Sounds radical, I know, but this would serve two purposes.
First, it would keep all teams on an even playing field early in the year and allow coaches and players to continue to work on the details over that initial two-week break. In fact, maybe the league could even temporarily expand team rosters ever so slightly and give coaches and general managers until Week 3 to make their final handful of cuts.
Secondly, the league-wide Week 2 bye would allow the college kiddos to continue to have the national spotlight on Labor Day Weekend when college football traditionally kicks off.
Again, going by the 2019 calendar, Week 3 would begin on Thursday, September 5— instead of a pageant filled contest, it would just be regular Thursday Night Football; the Steelers would take on the 49ers on September 8 instead of the 15, etc., etc.
NFL teams would arbitrarily have their second bye weeks over the course of the year, and the regular season would end on Sunday, January 5.
Under the 2019/2020 calendar scenario, this would push the Super Bowl back to February 9, which isn’t all that bad when you consider Super Bowl XL between the Steelers and Seahawks was played on February 5.
As for what the league would do with those two extra games and who would play whom?
With each team playing six divisional games, you couldn’t use those opponents because that would mean playing two teams three times and one team twice.
I suppose it could be neat to play two extra teams from the other conference. However, there would be little value to that in terms of tiebreakers.
There’s probably only one way to do this. Keep the number of divisional games the same (six), as well as the number of non-conference games (four). Continue to rotate divisions within each conference every season—the Steelers play all four teams from the AFC East in 2019. As for what changes, that brings me to the conference match-ups all teams must have each season that are based on where they placed in their divisions the year before. For example, the Steelers finished in second place in the AFC North in 2018. Therefore, they must play the Colts from the AFC South and the Chargers from the AFC West, both of whom finished in second place in their respective divisions in 2018.
Under an 18-game season, just create a home-and-home scenario, with each team playing at the other’s venue over the course of the year. If there’s a sweep by one team over another, that would make for an easy tiebreaker when deciding things like seeding and who makes the playoffs. If there’s a split, then conference record becomes the first tiebreaker between non-divisional opponents.
There you have it. That’s how the NFL could logistically add two games to its regular season schedule without wreaking too much havoc on our sensibilities.